Last season ended with women ascendant on nearly every front, as Dany, Cersei, Yara, Ellaria and Olenna all took the reins of their particular factions, as well as Sansa and Arya avenging themselves on the Boltons and Freys. “The Queen’s Justice” sees many of these women brought extremely low, as well as explicit reminders of the degradations that even those still occupying seats of power have endured (Dany and Sansa’s marital rapes, Cersei’s walk of shame). But even with the ladies taking the losses, it plays less as a reassertion of patriarchal power than an acknowledgment that even when the players have lady parts, the Great Game is still the Game. As Cersei told us way back in the first season, there’s no points for second place. You win or you die.
The Lannisters are, once again, doing the winning and Dany’s southern allies the dying. I was actually a bit relieved when Cersei’s plan to punish Ellaria was revealed; it was suitably fiendish, but more elegant than graphic. And acted to the nines by Indira Varma and Lena Headey, who has a series-best acting moment when a pained, genuine question slipped through her big revenge speech. Cersei is the series’ best villain because Headey is so good at these moments of humanity and hurt that peak briefly through the cold, vindictive exterior. That front is back on display when she (after a vigorous round of brotherfucking) meets with Tycho, the Iron Banker of Braavos. She is on top of her game, drawing favorable comparisons to her father, and making a good case that even if Dany is still more likely to win the war, she has no credit history to speak of, while the Lannisters have the best FICO score in any of the Seven Kingdoms.
|For she is the Unburnt, the Breaker Of Chains, and the Absorber of Prepayment Penalties|
She even has a plan for how to repay the Iron Bank, as Jaime’s masterstroke at episode’s end allows the crown to plunder the riches of Highgarden, while also cutting off the remainder of Dany’s Westerosi support, AND thanks to Euron’s supersonic fleet, stranding the Unsullied on the wrong side of the continent. As the show continues to contract toward the endgame, things have necessarily become more predictable, but this development was a genuine surprise, utilizing the accelerated pace of the season to layer the reveal of Tyrion’s full battle plan in as a misdirect from the bigger reveal of the Lannisters’ gambit. And that was all the more satisfying because it was rooted in lessons Jaime learned from his defeat at Robb Stark’s hands. That sense of the series’ history informing current decisions has been one of the season’s stronger assets, and is all over this episode - Jaime’s citing his sources for this tricky maneuver, Tyrion’s trip to the Wall or reminding Davos of the results of Blackwater, Dany recounting her trials and troubled family history with the Starks, or Cersei posthumously recognizing Oberyn’s spear game. And last but best of all, Olenna Tyrell going out in characteristically thorny fashion, offering up a less flattering posthumous assessment of Joffrey (“he really was a cunt, wasn’t he?”) before dropping the bomb that she was responsible for his death the moment she is beyond more drawn out retribution.
Olenna’s dying confession is a hell of a burn, but it doesn’t stop the Tyrells from joining the Baratheons, Martells, Freys and Boltons in the dustbin of Westerosi history. This makes Dany’s position all the more precarious, and bolsters the need for a genuine alliance between the Dragon Queen and King In The North. They finally come face to face after seven years of stalling at the geographical fringes of the narrative, neither realizing that this is a family reunion of sorts. There is some friction, as she is not about to call off the conquest she’s been planning her entire life any more than he is going to surrender the kingdom for which his family has shed copious blood. Tyrion does a good job of smoothing things over to the point where they can start building a working relationship, though, which is a good counterpoint to his grand military stratagem being reduced to tatters. Which is in turn is a necessary twist to make Dany’s situation desperate enough that the union of the two characters with the thickest plot armor feels like a dire necessity rather than a dominating supergroup a la the ’85 Bears or Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
|Look upon them and tremble, peasants|
The season has been ruthlessly efficient in cutting Dany’s advantages away, to the point of granting Euron superpowers of teleportation to go along with soaring assholery that no mortal douchebag could hope to match. The timing of troop and ships movements may have gotten wonky, but the show has compensated for this with continuous action and fast-acting twists. This accelerated pace could be cause for concern, but so far it's been bringing with it new and exciting character pairings, and efficient, canny beats for them. Amidst all the action we still get stuff like Cersei’s “why did you do that?”, Olenna’s final scene, and perfectly calibrated exchanges like Melisandre parrying Varys’s threat on her life by telling him they will both die in Westeros or Dany calling Tyrion on pawning off his own ideas as ancient wisdom (though “you should never believe a thing just because you want it to be true” is solid advice nonetheless).
Or after Jon and Dany fail to reconcile their competing claims to the sovereignty of the North, or their assessments of who the true enemy is, when she gets a brief, illuminating glimpse of his character as he mutters briefly that unlike most people, he does not enjoy the thing he's best at. I do not see romance in these characters’ futures, as many have predicted, although I get that given the medieval context and their family history, their pairing would technically represent a step forward on the incest spectrum. But I just don’t buy that for all the series’s commitment to a “realistic” depiction of feudal culture, it is going to, as its final statement, ask us to accept a marriage between an aunt and nephew as its Happy Ending. Same goes for the weirdos who think that he might end up with Sansa, after the reveal that they are cousins rather than siblings apparently made them more ‘shippable.
|Focus your 'shipping where it belongs, dweebs|
No, my money is still on Sansa and Tyrion’s marriage being revived to broker the final peace between Fire And Ice. Which is another piece of the series’ history that popped up briefly, as Tyrion quickly and awkwardly assured Jon that it was never consummated. Unlike her other marriage, which Bran reminds us of in his particularly chilly reunion with his sister. He also casually renounces his claim to Winterfell, which is frankly for the best since Sansa has shit locked down already at home and Jon is already abroad working on his foreign policy credentials. Of course, Littlefinger won’t like having someone around who can take his advice about seeing everything everywhere in your head literally. And he’s due for some kind of nefarious move…
Is it next week yet?
SUBPLOT REPORT CARD
Dragonstone – A. Great stuff between Tyrion and Jon, Tyrion and Dany, Varys and Melisandre, and finally Davos gets to speak more than a sentence.
The North - B. Bran has never been my favorite character, but I’m not sure I’m going to like him in his omnipotent, emotionless incarnation at all.
King’s Landin’ – A. Great episode for Cersei, but if that handmaid she asked for new bedsheets isn’t Arya yet, she will be by season’s end.
Maester Baetin’ – B-. If Jorah decides to take the overland route to King’s Landing, rather than sailing to Dragonstone, he will be going directly through territory held by Jaime and Randyll Tarly. No mention of Sam giving him a certain Valyrian sword, however, which I thought was all but certain.
Casterly Rock/Highgarden – A+. That long over-the-shoulder shot of Jaime stalking the courtyards and battlements was a thing of beauty, as was the siege montage. Both gave two new locations, only glimpsed briefly, an epic scope that has served these later, bigger budgeted seasons very well.
MAP WATCH: No additions for Casterly Rock or Highgarden. I suppose the latter would have constituted a bit of a spoiler for how the end of the episode played out, but featuring Pyke instead is flat out chicanery. And I approve.
Season Morghulis: House Frey, Obara Sand, Nymeria Sand, Tyene Sand, Olenna Tyrell (I’m listing Tyene as dead because Bronn is off in the Reach even if he were inclined to mount a rescue attempt, and Ellaria as not dead because the promises to keep her alive whether she likes it or not raise the possibility of another scene with her).
Death Watch: There’s no shortage of possibilities here. When we get back to the Brotherhood, I expect their ranks to thin out a bit, and Tormund is going to be in real danger as soon as we return to him and Eastwatch By The Sea. Yara’s prospects look grim. Littlefinger is due to make some nefarious move any time now, which will probably be trouble for Robin Arryn and/or Yohn Royce. Missandei and Grey Worm’s farewell love scene all but guarantees they won’t reunite, but with him surviving the battle and stranded at Casterly Rock without enemies to fight, I’d say she is in the more immediate danger. Recasting a nothing role like Dickon Tarly suggests that character will have something significant in store, which could mean Papa Tarly is not long for the world.
I’m thinking it might be another week before we see the Brotherhood again. So I’m going to say Royce and Randyll both drop next week.